This was one of those emails that made me ponder the usefulness of being a married lady. Married ladies can talk about sex as if they know something about it without anyone thinking, "Hey! How come she knows so much?"
Dear Auntie Seraphic,
A not-especially-close friend of mine recently asked for my help in coming back to the faith. She was raised Catholic, but hasn't been practicing recently. Now she wants to return to the Church, and I'm excited for her.
The problem is that she has been dating an agnostic for about three years, and they are sexually active (although I hate using that phrase). She recognizes that coming back to the Church would mean not having sex with her boyfriend any more, which I think is a good first step. The problem is that she, as a recent revert, is struggling with how to explain to him their need to stop; she isn't too familiar with Catholic teachings on these sorts of things. In the meantime, he doesn't seem to perceive any problem with the situation, and wants to continue sleeping with her. Apparently, he has also said that he wants to marry her someday, and I think this is making it harder for her to stop.
My question is twofold: how should I approach the topic with her, and are there any good resources to which I could direct her?
Reversion Resource Guide
Dear Reversion Resource Guide,
I'm going radically revise my initial reponse to be even less dismissive of the agnostic boyfriend. Somehow my teenage-era horror of agnostic boyfriends who talk their girlfriends into having sex with them clouded the sun of my middle-aged married lady charity. Men who enjoy having consensual sex with their girlfriends of three years are not actually the scum of the earth. They are just ordinary guys. A guy who tries to go out and bed a new woman every night is doing it for a cheap and nasty thrill. A guy who cuddles up to the same woman for three years is doing it to feel loved and to express love. So I'm going to rewrite my response to take into consideration that Mr Agnostic is most likely not a douche bag but a guy who loves his girlfriend and will feel really hurt if she turns off the sex tap.
Okay, it's nice that this girl wishes to become a more authentic Catholic. Although her serious sins have cut her off from Grace, she never really left the Church, of course, unless she publicly repudiated her. I don't quite understand why she needs your help, however. Are there no priests around? She needs to talk to a priest.
She needs to talk to a priest because a priest is going to understand a lot more about where she and her boyfriend are coming from than a Nice Catholic Girl who thinks the first step to becoming a better Catholic is to stop having sex. Yes, pre-marital sex is pretty bad. It is a serious sin. But Christianity does not begin and end with sexual purity but with the Blessed Trinity. Christianity is not a set of rules but a relationship with Almighty God in His three Persons. Christianity is a relationship with God in light of His revelatory Incarnation, Mission, Death and Resurrection. Frankly, I'd start with prayer. Does she pray? Does she read Scripture? Does she think about, read about and talk to Jesus of Nazareth?
The problem isn't that this girl is having sex. The problem is that this girl is having sex with someone to whom she isn't married. The solution to the problem has absolutely nothing to do with you. The solution is for her to say to her boyfriend, "Look. I believe in and love Almighty God, and Almighty God wants me to be fully committed to the man with whom I share my bed. It's time we got married, baby."
This may very well surprise Mr. Agnostic Boyfriend if your acquaintance has hitherto shown absolutely no reluctance in the past three years to sleep with him outside of marriage. And Mr. Agnostic Boyfriend, upon hearing that his girlfriend wishes now to become a better Catholic, might be afraid that this means she wants to dump him. She should assure him that she doesn't want to dump him, she just wants to please Almighty God.
Of course--and forgive me for my cynicism here--it may be that she is bored with her boyfriend and wants an excuse to stop sleeping with him. If this is so, you need to be so far from the situation, you will be in another zip code entirely.
This girl didn't write to me. You did. And, therefore, you are my first concern. You sound like a very nice girl, and I know very well that it is thrilling and flattering to feel like the Holy Spirit is using you to bring about the salvation of another. However, I suspect (and this is in no way shameful, really, considering your age and state in life) that you don't understand how sexual relationships between men and women work. You don't seem to understand that even very nice (if disobedient-to-God) women like to have sex and aren't just tricked into it (especially after the first year) by vague promises of marriage.
It is absolutely impossible for you to convince another woman not to have sex when she wants to have sex. Three years of sex is a hard habit to break, and frankly, only falling in love with another man (or simply falling out of love with this one) is likely to make this girl break it. That man may very well be Our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, it should be. If she does love her boyfriend, only knowing and loving Our Lord better than she does now will make her choose His will over her current set-up.
One of the most important things we were told in ministry school was that, when we were out of our depth,we acknowledge it and refer our friend/client/sheep (whoever)to someone better informed. When an undergrad under my care told me of his/her Sister Faustina-like visions, I sent him/her straight to a famous priest-professor of spiritual direction.
In your case, unless you do have an understanding of what it means to be in a long-term sexually active relationship (which I doubt), I think you are out of your depth. Think of the best, smartest priest you know and suggest your friend and her boyfriend talk to him.
Yes, the boyfriend. He, too, has an immortal soul. He is not just the potential roadblock to the reversion of your non-practising Catholic pal. He is a real person with feelings and a soul Christ died to save.
If you include the boyfriend in your suggestions, and she recoils, that may mean that she doesn't want to include him in her journey and a growing relationship with Christ and, therefore, that she doesn't love him anymore. And if this is the case, once again you need to distance yourself from a seriously toxic situation that has nothing to do with you. If she doesn't love the man, she should dump him. If she loves him and he is otherwise a man of character, then she should marry him. End of story.
End of THEIR story. It's not your story. Say "Why don't you get married?", maybe give the girl a copy of "Mulieris Dignitatem" and something on marriage, refer her to a good priest and pray for her. But for heaven's sake do not get involved in the psychodrama of Her and Him and God.
I hope this is helpful.
Grace and peace,